That a humble Address be presented to Her Excellency praying that, following the steps already taken by the Société Nationale de l'Acadie, she will intercede with Her Majesty to cause the British Crown to recognize officially the wrongs done to the Acadian people in its name between 1755 and 1763.
Madam Speaker, it is with great pleasure and some measure of optimism that I rise today in the House to launch the debate on Motion No.382.
As you know, this is not the first time that I submit to the House this motion that is so important to me, but I sincerely hope that it will be the last.
Some may wonder why I constantly bring up this issue. tIt is simply because it has not yet been resolved. Ignoring a reality that is unpleasant or that makes us uneasy will not make it go away like magic.
The fact is that a substantive debate has emerged within Acadian society regarding its painful past. Personally, I see this as a very positive and beneficial process, because it is a first step towards the healing of old wounds and, in the long run, towards true reconciliation.
The Société Nationale de l'Acadie, supported by its member and affiliated societies, has taken up the cause in the matter of asking the British Crown to officially recognize the facts of the deportation. Therefore, it is no longer the cause of one individual or a few people acting in isolation, but of organizations representing the Acadian people.
It would therefore be appropriate for the House of Commons to recognize the facts, since it cannot, as a democratic institution, continue to ignore movements that are active in our society. Moreover, in this particular case, it is useful to remember that the House has a privileged institutional relationship with the Crown. Thus, it can propose to serve as a conduit between the British Crown and the Société Nationale de l'Acadie, which does not enjoy this kind of privileged relationship.
It is not right to forget this tragedy that took place in Canada. Because it is the both tragic and glorious saga of the Acadian people that we are talking about.
Knowing these historical facts makes it possible to measure the road we have already travelled, and so be even more amazed at the vitality of the Acadian people today.
Thus it is our duty, and ours first, to take a calm look at this dark episode in our history. Subjects of the Crown since the treaty of Utrecht and tolerated under Queen Anne's edict, the Acadians, simply because of their language and religion, were deprived of their rights and freedoms, stripped of their goods and expelled unmercifully, in peril of their lives and in flagrant contravention of the constitutional principles prevailing since time immemorial, even before they were codified in the Magna Carta.
This legal document, enacted by King John, known as John Lackland, in 1215, and reaffirmed by Edward I in 1297, established a certain number of rules and rights which even a king must not violate.
It is a constitutional text whose provisions are essentially still in force today. In articles 35, 36 and 37 of the 1215 Magna Carta and in articles 28 and 29 of the 1297 version, it is stipulated that, and I quote:
[...] no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it. No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.
Moreover, British law gave any subject the absolute right to stay in the country. Of course, in the end, these rights were not recognized for the Acadians as His Majesty's subjects. Yet, because of their birth right, they were under no obligation to take an oath to be considered His Majesty's subjects.
As for those who had been born before the treaty of Utrecht was signed, as I said earlier in this House, they became Her Majesty's subjects by operation of law alone, as confirmed by Queen Anne's edict.
And since they could not relinquish their natural allegiance to the king of France, because of their birth right, which British law also recognized, it would have been inconceivable for the King of England to ask them to bear arms against their former sovereign, which he was careful not to do, until Lawrence carried out the deportation plan devised by Shirley in 1746.
I think I have clearly shown the House that the requirement of taking an unconditional oath was just a crude and spurious attempt to legitimize a purely illegal act under British law.
Clearly, the goal was to disperse the Acadians in Protestant and English communities, so as to facilitate and accelerate their assimilation and eventually ensure their end as a distinct cultural, religious and linguistic group.
Some claim that this was, quite simply, genocide. Obviously, it is not easy to apply modern values and legal concepts to something that happened 250 years ago.
Raphael Lemkin, a lawyer and theorist who coined the term genocide, wrote in 1944 that he had created this term:
—to denote an old practice in its modern development.
Although the goal was not to kill people, many thousands of people died during that time. Entire families were wiped off the face of the Earth.
That said, there is no doubt that this kind of operation, as defined by the United Nations after World War II, is extremely similar to crimes of genocide.
The United Nations decreed that:
—genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;... forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
That said, I think that we can agree that this is a very serious event, that cannot be minimized or justified whatsoever. If we take a strictly legal, not to say legalistic, approach, we must conclude that the legal implications of these events are still being felt to this day.
In fact, the 1968 convention on the non-applicability of statutory limitations to war crimes and crimes against humanity stipulates that no statutory limitation shall apply to a crime of genocide, whether committed during times of peace or times of war.
Therefore, if the British really committed a genocide type crime against the Acadian people, some could claim that those guilty of such activities are responsible in perpetuity. Under current international law, British officers like Lawrence and Mockton should be brought to justice. The only problem is that these people are now dead.
In fact, all of them are dead, except for His or Her Majesty, there being in British law a legal fiction according to which His or Her Majesty can never die. “The King is dead. Long live the King,” as the saying goes.
According to this principle, Her Majesty could be held responsible for the deportation, particularly since the Magna Carta was violated.
It is interesting to note that here in Canada, since June 2000, when the act respecting genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes was added to Canadian legislation, it has been possible to prosecute the Crown for such actions. Section 3 of this act states that the Act is binding on Her Majesty. By this Act, the Crown gives up its immunity and in so doing, accepts the fact that it could eventually be held responsible for this type of crime, regardless of the time elapsed, because this procedure is of course retroactive, there being no statutory limitation.
I know that on the government side, several members are concerned that the Canadian government could end up being held responsible for actions taken in the name of the Crown, at the time of the deportation, because of the successor state principle and might have to compensate the Acadians. I want to reassure them. Even if some people would indeed like to see the Crown compensate the Acadians, it is important to note that this is not the purpose of the current motion.
Moreover, Université de Moncton professor of international law Kamel Khiari, a member of the expert panel set up by the Société Nationale de l'Acadie to address the implications of Motion M-241, has already expressed the opinion that, in crimes of this nature, responsibility cannot be transferred to the successor state but remains in perpetuity with the predecessor state, unless the latter has ceased to exist in law in the interim.
Not only does the United Kingdom still exist, but it is still governed by the same constitutional framework and, in theory, still has the same head of state, as has already been pointed out. Her Majesty therefore has a duty to officially recognize the wrongs done to the Acadian people in the name of the Crown, since such exactions do not fade from the collective memory of a nation as readily as some would have us believe.
In these cases, a curious psychosocial phenomenon apparently develops, the term for which was coined by Christopher L. Blakesley. “The phenomenology of shame” refers to the fact that, for a people that has been a victim of exactions of this nature, it is difficult to escape the perpetual painful memories of these events, unless a process of acceptance has been engaged in order to come to “own” these events. This process often involves recognition, by the authors of those actions themselves, of the wrongs that have been done as a result of these inhumane actions.
Despite the claims of some, this is not just a long-ago event that can be easily dismissed. Beyond the psychosocial effects that I just mentioned, the deportation had legal repercussions that theoretically could still apply today.
The deportation order that resulted in the catastrophic Grande Dérangement, has never been lifted and consequently is still in force today. An Acadian travelling to England could be arrested and deported since, theoretically at least, he would be considered a common criminal. It is high time we set the record straight and finally recognize the harm that was caused to the Acadian people, just as it was to the Maori and the Irish, in the name of the British Crown.
On August 16, His Honour Herménégilde Chiasson, a well known Acadian artist, was appointed Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick.
I would like to take this opportunity to offer him my sincerest and warmest congratulations on this appointment, which, if I may say, caps a long and already very successful career.
In an interview he gave a few days later to the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal , the new Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick said he did not intend to take advantage of his position to exert pressure on the British Crown to apologize for the deportation of the Acadians. He added, and I quote:
I have always been a strong advocate of modernity. Acadia is burdened by its past. I have long felt that Acadians are bogged down in constantly analysing their history...Of course the Deportation was tragic, but we should stop dragging the past around like a ball and chain...Acadians should...roll up their sleeves instead of feeling sorry for themselves over their past.
It may surprise some, but I more or less agree with him. No one is asking him to get involved in seeking an apology from the British Crown. He is right not to want to get involved since no one is officially asking that the Crown apologize to the Acadian people any more.
Finally, it can indeed be unhealthy to dwell obsessively on tragic events of the past, to be nostalgic about paradise lost. This is why I believe it is very important for the Acadian people to come to grips with its tragic past, to finally turn the page on a dark chapter in its history, without forgetting it, so it can live for the present and look to the future.
We must not be afraid of learning from the past because history has made us what we are today and looking back at it can help us avoid repeating our mistakes and build a better future.
As suggested in Motion No.382 and as I have already mentioned, I think that the House of Commons, because of its institutional ties with the British Crown, must support the initiative taken by the Société Nationale de l'Acadie.
Could this kind of recognition reignite old quarrels and create conflict between the two main language communities in Atlantic Canada? I do not think so. On the contrary, I believe, as I was saying earlier, that it would be a first step toward true reconciliation.
I will conclude with this statement made by Honoré Mercier at the Baltimore convention, on November 12, 1889:
We are resolved to be guided solely by justice in our public affairs. We believe in justice no matter what: in the name of justice, we accept the heaviest responsibilities and the most serious consequences not only of the present and the future, but of the past as well. And when we realize after the fact that the dictates of such justice were ignored, that its interests were neglected, that its rights were violated, then we believe that it is necessary to go back in time to right the wrongs and pay the debt.